The curious case of the Xbox Series X

This has possibly been the weirdest Christmas ever. Here in the south-east of the UK, we were moved into tier 4 lockdown restrictions with only five days’ notice and this meant we were no longer allowed to see family and friends during the festive period.

There was a range of emotion as my other-half and I listened to the announcement. On one hand we were pleased that action was being taken to keep everyone safe; but on the other, we weren’t looking forward to dealing with the reaction of certain difficult family-members when we told them we were no longer coming to visit. And then there was the fact we’d have to tell my stepson Ethan that we now wouldn’t be able to see him at Christmas – the first time we’d been allowed to have him on the day for five years.

The small relief was that Pete and I had taken the decision to give him his present the night before. We knew Ethan wouldn’t get much time to use it the following weekend as we were due to spend Christmas and Boxing Day with family, so it had seemed fair to let him have it early. Although we now wouldn’t be able to have him stay with us for a few weeks thanks to the increased risk of COVID-19, at least he’d be able to get some enjoyment from his gift before we had to say goodbye.

You see, my stepson had been hinting that he wanted an Xbox Series X since the reveal of the consoles last summer. We told him that we’d give him money for Christmas to put towards the console but he’d need to take on the responsibility of saving up the rest himself. After keeping his birthday and pocket-money safe for six months, he talked about nothing else during the lead-up to the holidays and constantly nagged us for updates on whether we’d been able to get one whenever he heard news about limited stock.

We’d sat Ethan down after dinner on the evening before the tier 4 announcement and explained he could choose to have his gift early – but he needed to be aware that the offer came with several caveats. First, he must give us his payment towards the cost of the console before the end of the weekend. Second, he would need to spend ‘proper’ time with family-members over Christmas instead of talking at them constantly about his Xbox or whichever game he was playing (something he’s very prone to doing).

Finally, a new three-strike rule would be imposed regarding noise. He’d gradually been getting louder while playing online with friends in recent weeks and we found ourselves going up to his room to tell him to keep it down more frequently. If this happened too many times, the console would now be taken away for the rest of the day. (We were aware Ethan would agree to anything just to get his hands on the Xbox and had one of the most peaceful nights we’d had in ages.)

My stepson’s eyes lit up the moment the box was placed down on the table. The look on his face was one of genuine amazement: he couldn’t believe we’d managed to get our hands on a console and it was sitting there right in front of him. We had to urge him to actually touch it after he sat staring at it for a few minutes, and he snatched his hand away quickly because he was so nervous. He couldn’t even bring himself to open the box and eventually Pete had to do it for him.

Ethan spent that weekend playing the same games he would have done if he were still using his Xbox One and saw no major graphical improvements thanks to his old television. I struggled to wrap my brain around the extent of his excitement; I can’t bring myself to see the new consoles as anything other than just another piece of hardware nowadays and, if my current hardware can still run the titles I want to play, then owning the latest equipment doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

I understand my stepkid’s enthusiasm if there were more new releases for the Xbox Series and PlayStation 5, but currently most of them are either available on the older consoles too or are just remakes and remasters of existing games. The only upcoming titles Ethan has asked about were ones we told him he was too young to play. Personally, it’s only Horizon Forbidden West and Fable IV which have caught my attention so far – but with no release dates announced yet, who knows when we’ll get the chance to experience them.

Watching the kid’s reaction to his Christmas present that evening made me realise that I’ve not been excited about anything gaming-wise for a long time. This isn’t just to do with the lack of new titles, delays to games I was looking forward to or the now-common unrealistic level of hype. 2020 has been a tough year for everybody and we’re still feeling its effects going into 2021; months of lockdown and fear have brought on a lack of motivation and enthusiasm, and sometimes it takes all your effort just to stay on an even emotional keel.

I want to be that eager again though. To look forward to trying the bargains I managed to pick up during the latest Steam sale, to find a game I’m totally hooked on, to experience a story I can’t stop thinking about long after I’ve completed it. Perhaps finding Yakuza 0 after becoming curious about it during a stream last month by Nathan of Gaming Omnivore is the start; I’ve already completed over 25 hours at the time of writing and I’m having a lot of fun mashing buttons around the streets of Kamurocho so far.

I guess the only thing we can do is try to be more like my stepson was that night, to look for the joy in small events and then use those feelings to push us forward to more positive times. It’s difficult and we’re all struggling, but we will get there. I wish you all the best for 2021 and hope you find some brightness in the coming months.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)


Christmas kisses and birthday wishes: 2020

It’s Christmas! Curl up with that new video game from Santa, hunt through Steam for bargains, and get your controllers and mince pies ready. Who knows, you might even be able to rope your mum into a game once she’s had a sherry or two.

I’d like to take this festive opportunity to wish everyone a very merry Christmas and happy New Year before we all get caught up in the madness of the day. I hope you have a lovely time and find everything you wished for waiting for you under the tree; and that 2021 is a year of change and hope. May it be filled with happiness, love, laughter and even more great video games.

It’s a double celebration here at Later Levels as today is the blog’s fourth birthday. The last four years have been such an incredible experience filled with so many opportunities and highlights, but most special of all are the talented bloggers I’ve met along the way. I’m now privileged to call some of them friends in real life and they’re some of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the chance to know.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart and, once again, merry Christmas.

Kim   ❤️

PS: remember I asked you guys to bring along festive tunes to the winter blog party a couple of weeks ago? Enjoy!



The best games to play at Christmas

There’s something about Christmas which gets everyone nostalgic. That’s usually the same feeling we want from video games this time of year: a sense of comfort and good memories to make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

And let’s face it, gaming with a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie or two is far more entertaining than watching the Queen’s speech (sorry, Your Majesty). In case you’re not sure what to play during this holiday season, I asked some of my blogger-friends to tell us all about the titles they find themselves picking up at Christmas. Whether you’re looking for something that reminds you of your childhood, a game to take you away from it all or a good story to get wrapped up in, we’ve got something here for you.

Lorraine from Geeky Galaxy

Stellaris, video game, space, stars, planetStellaris is the game for me during the holiday season for a few reasons. I get far more time to play since I take as much time as possible off work. That means I can get in a full game without blinking an eye and a full game in Stellaris is not a short thing. BUT, I can also create a galactic empire modelled on Father Christmas and his elves. A corporate empire, with a leader with a white beard and a subservient second species as elves? See, you can make any Christmassy if you try hard enough!”

Charles from Comfortably Adventurous

Civilization VI, video game“The holiday season traditionally involves a long drive to see my family and the limitations of my laptop to satisfy my gaming needs. With no great predication for discovering new niche titles, the mainstay of my gaming habits in recent years has been an old favourite, Civilization VI. It’s an easy game to get lost in, that allure of ‘one more turn’ just pulling at you until you realise everyone else has left the room and your are a millennia into the history of your culture. Few games have held my attention as strongly as this classic.”

DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, video game“The holidays have always been a great time to catch up on gaming. I have two weeks off from work, so this is the perfect time for me to finish up any long RPGs that I’ve started throughout the year. Last year, I wrapped up The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, and this year I am working on finishing the third game in the saga. This is the perfect time to get it done since the game makes you explore and talk to everyone in every area that you visit. It is not required to get through the game, but if you want to complete it, you can’t leave any area unchecked. So for me, there is always a good chance that I am playing a long RPG to finish it up before more games enter the backlog.”

MagiWasTaken from Indicator

“The best game to play during the holidays? Well, obviously, it’s got to be Headbangers in Holiday Hell. It’s an action-roguelike that my laptop can run and since runs can be somewhat short (due to my lack of skills), I can get as festive as I want as often as I want and quit at any time if I need to spend some quality time with my family. After all, I don’t get to visit my family all too often, especially nowadays, so I don’t play too many games these days. Happy Holidays! Sincerely, Magi!”

Nathan from Gaming Omnivore

Animal Crossing: New Horizons, video game“When I think of video games I associate with a particular time of year, one of the very first that spring to mind is Animal Crossing. One of my favorite parts of Animal Crossing games has been the changing of seasons along with the different scenery and activities to go with it, especially once the autumn season begins and makes way into Halloween and before you know it, we’re already approaching Toy Day and New Year’s Eve in the winter. Some of my most vivid holiday memories have been spent strolling through my village (or island) and taking in the seasonal sites with the neighbors. I still remember the New Year’s Eves that were spent with the GameCube hooked up to the living room tv as we’d visit the other village denizens and gather in the town square to count down to the new year at midnight. Of course, you could make it whatever season you’d like by simply adjusting the clock on your console, but time travel was never really my thing (I’m not a Doctor).”

Ellen from Ace Asunder

World of Warcraft, video game, Christmas, tree, star, snow“I haven’t been able to say this for five years, but oh my gawd, I will definitely be playing World of Warcraft this holiday season. During my eight pre-20015 years in WoW, it was a Christmas day tradition to drag my characters to either Ironforge or Orgrimmar (I shamelessly play both sides) and collect gifts left under the Winter Veil tree by Greatfather Winter (yep! Blizzard’s version of Christmas). These gifts were limited time toys for your characters that could be used to interact with other players for extra fun. I’m so excited to resume my addiction tradition this year!”

Gaming Diaries

Monopoly, Fallout, board game“For games that are perfect for the holiday period I always come back to games you can play together. Quite often this combines with ones that reflect a more traditional board game or even a quiz show. For example, the various Monopoly or Risk style games, but also games like Knowledge is Power or Scene It. These give you so many fun moments as families and are great for the reluctant gamers in the family to get involved with easily and the tidy up at the end is far quicker. Anything that means coming together and having fun is perfect for this period and with a little extra time available to play and the opportunity for a lot of laughs these can be perfect.”

Athena from AmbiGaming

Journey, video game, mountain, stranger, dessert, sky, star, sand, clouds“December, and particularly Christmas, is a hard time of year for me, so I often find myself reaching for familiar games, like those in the Dragon Age or Mass Effect series, although I have a yearly tradition of playing Metal Gear Solid 2 on New Year’s Eve, as well. However, this year I might change it up and pull out Journey, a quiet, contemplative game that offers surprisingly close relationships with other (real) people on their own separate, but ultimately familiar, journeys, before gaining the understanding needed to become a light for someone else as they begin their own trek across the sands.”

William from WCRobinson

Pokémon, Platinum, video game, winter, snow“My pick is Pokémon Platinum. To start with, Diamond / Pearl / Platinum are my favourite games in the series for a multitude of reasons, and very special to me personally. So, why am I picking Platinum here? Well, to explain: Platinum was the third game, arriving in 2009 and bringing several changes to the formula. One of which is a newly wintery tone, with a snowfall and brisk chill covering the region, as shown with the addition of a scarf to each player outfit! This iteration of Pokémon has such a comforting feel, with soothingly melodic music (just listen to Route 209!), a beautiful 2D sprite-based art style, and endearing characters; add that snowy aesthetic and numerous other additions, such as animated Pokémon sprites, new story content, and map changes, and you get a warm blanket of a game that you can sink into. I associate Platinum with a sense of relaxation that matches this time of year so well, and I hope you can enjoy it too!”

Luke from Hundstrasse

Assassin's Creed IV, Black Flag, video game, sea, water, ship, island, pirates“There’s something about that lost week between Christmas and New Year, when I’m full of mince pies and Terry’s Chocolate Orange that makes me crave an open-world game. I can’t say that there is one specifically that I associate with the festive period, but over the years I’ve tackled many open-world adventures during the holiday season: Black Flag, Sunset Overdrive, and Dying Light all spring to mind from recent years, but there have been many more. I think it’s just that once-a-year combo of not having to get up early in the morning and not having anything else that really needs doing to beckon in hours of ‘just-one-more-sidequest’ and ‘Ooohhhh… I only need X $/£/points to unlock that fancy costume’.”

Kim from Later Levels

The Elder Scrolls Online, video game, tankard, inn, drink, woman, barman“I usually find myself returning to The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) at Christmas. The main reason is because I first discovered it at this time of year so it seems fitting, but it’s also because it’s so simple to get into. You can do a couple of quests before putting down the controller, step away to open presents and have dinner with the family, then dive straight back into it without having to try too hard to remember where you left off. It’s also easy to unwrap your next Quality Street while working your way through a conversation tree.”

What will you be playing this Christmas? And what will you be keeping an eye out for in the Steam winter sale? Let us know in the comments below, if you can put down your controller and mince pie to spare a moment.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)


#CreativeChristmasCollab: in celebration of friendship and memes

Christmas is a time for coming together, celebrating friendship and playing video games. 2020 is no different despite its weirdness, and the lovely Chris Durston has put together an event to raise our festive spirits.

Chris’s aim for the #CreativeChristmasCollab is to make this year a little less strange by bringing the community here in our WordPress group closer together. Participating bloggers were asked to provide a link to one of their favourite posts and then, after he’d worked his Secret-Santa-style magic, write something nice about the person we’d been matched up with and their article. I can now reveal who I’ve been gifted for this collaboration: the lovely Ellen from Ace Asunder.

I laughed when I received Chris’s message and saw her name. You see, although Ellen and I have always been in the same blogging circles, we started getting to know each other properly about a year ago and now talk pretty much every day. We’ve joined forces to run several community-events together too, the most recent being this summer’s Great Blog Crawl, and it’s something we’re hoping we can bring back again for 2021 but in an even bigger and better format.

But she’s more than just ‘someone I know from blogging’. I now consider her to be a friend in real-life regardless of the fact we’re almost 3,000 miles apart, have never met in person and COVID-19 screwed up our plans to change that. The past several months have been tough for everyone and Ellen is always on hand to listen and give advice whenever I’ve needed it – as well as plenty of memes for those days where I’ve been stuck in eight conference calls in a row.

She’s also been there with a huge amount of support right from the start of our GameBlast21 plans. It’s thanks to her that our cat Zelda appeared in the promotional video for the event and the team received a lovely mention during one of SpecialEffect’s streams. We always look forward to completing gaming marathons for the charity, but we’re now even more hyped for next February and are looking forward to roping genniz0rz (Ellen’s Twitch name) in for a few games.

When Chris told me about his collaboration idea, I thought I’d take the subject of the article created by the person I’d been matched with and dedicate a post to them on the same topic. That’s difficult here though because, in a similar vein to Ellen’s The Legends of Twitch, I’ve already written about some of my favourite streamers from the community and shared this back in July. So instead, I’ve come up with something different to celebrate our friendship and I think she’s going to approve.

As mentioned above, she’s always there with a meme whenever you need one and we’ve sent so many to each other over the past months. Our favourite subjects seem to be cats, making it through the coronapocalypse or dealing with working in an office. Check out the gallery below to see some of the best, being mindful that a few of them contain strong language – and make sure you go visit Ellen at Ace Asunder and on Twitch.

#StrengthInSarcasm

Memes 2020 photo gallery

This slideshow requires JavaScript.



We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)


Christmas kisses and birthday wishes: 2019

It’s Christmas! Time for curling up with that new video game from Santa, hunting through Steam for bargains, and having one hand on the controller while the other is in the chocolate box. Who knows, you might even be able to rope your mum into a game once she’s had a sherry or two.

I’d like to take this festive opportunity to wish everyone out there a very merry Christmas and happy New Year before we all get caught up in the madness of the day. I hope you have a lovely day and find everything you wished for waiting for you under the tree; and that 2020 is the year when all your dreams come true. May it be filled with happiness, love, laughter and even more great video games.

It’s a double celebration here at Later Levels as today is the blog’s third birthday. The last three years have been such an incredible experience filled with so many opportunities and highlights, but most special of all are the talented bloggers I’ve met along the way. I’m now privileged to call some of them friends in real life and they’re some of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the chance to know.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart and, once again, merry Christmas.

Kim ❤️


PS: remember I asked you guys to bring along festive tunes to the winter blog party a couple of weeks ago? Enjoy!



Secret Blogging Santa: a community event

Christmas will be here in just a few short weeks. It’s not only a great time of year for wrapping up warm, staying indoors, grabbing a tin of Quality Street and playing video games – it’s perfect for participating in a cosy community collaboration to get you in the festive mood.

Ellen from Livid Lightning is your Secret Blogging Santa and I’m her little helper elf, and we’ve got just what you need to get your bells jingling. Sign up for this event and you’ll be randomly assigned another blogger to whom you’ll have to ‘gift’ an item from a video game. This needs to be done in the form of a blog post explaining why you chose that object and what makes their site special – and it means someone in the community will be doing the same for you, so we can all share our blogging love and feel fuzzy inside.

Fancy joining in? Then here’s a quick overview of the guidelines:

  • Read the full details and get in touch with Ellen by Friday, 29 November 2019 using the contacts provided
  • Get ready to receive your assignment on Sunday, 01 December 2019
  • Be sure not to spoil the surprise by revealing the name to anyone!
  • Write a blog post that includes a bio about your recipient and links to some of their posts you enjoyed reading
  • Give everyone a description of your fictional gift and the reasons you chose it for them
  • Schedule your post to be published at any time on Wednesday, 25 December 2019 and look out for your own gift too
  • Check out the full gift list with links to each blog post on the Livid Lightning site in the new year

  • The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, Guybrush, lookout, pirate, Christmas, Santa

    Worried about signing up and then not being able to participate due to other festive commitments? Fear not, friends: each sign-up comes with our exclusive Livid Lightning Gift Insurance Coverage at no extra cost! If you’re unable to complete your blog post on time, simply contact Santa Ellen as soon as possible and your policy will kick in. With a little help from her elves, she’ll make sure Christmas happens by posting a gift for your assignment in your place so nobody has to miss out.

    The aim of this community collaboration is to lift us all and promote others blogs this Christmas. And who knows: you may even meet a new blogging buddy in the process. Let Ellen know if you’d like to join us for festive frolics next month – no need to write to the North Pole, just send her a message. We look forward to hearing from you!